ADHD in the Workplace

21 mins read

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a unique collection of cognitive functions that arise during brain development. Although most cases of ADHD are diagnosed during childhood, there has been a recent rise in adult diagnoses due to growing awareness .

Researchers at the University College London (UCL) found that between 2010 and 2018, diagnoses in adults rose by 20-fold in men and 15-fold in women (McKechnie et al., 2023). It’s currently thought that five percent of the population experience ADHD (Young et al., 2020) but these figures can vary. For example, The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence predict the figure is between three and four percent.

People with ADHD often talk about the lack of support they receive from their employer to mitigate challenges, or that they avoid disclosing their neuro-differences because the fear of stigma is too great. But, with awareness and the right support in place, employees with ADHD can capitalise on their strengths and be a real asset to an organisation.


What is ADHD?

ADHD has no bearing on intelligence; it’s just part of a person’s make-up. It means that someone may experience differences in Executive Function, a cognitive domain that’s associated with planning, focusing and completing tasks, as well as emotion regulation and processing information.

Because of its variation, ADHD can be divided into three main subtypes with the following characteristics:

  1. Predominantly inattentivea. Easily distracted
    b. Restlessness
    c. Risk-taking
  2. Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive
    a. Fidgeting
    b. Talking excessively
    c. Task switching
  3. Combination of the two
    a. Hyperactive
    b. Inattentive
    c. Impulsive

Work can be a complex environment for anyone, regardless of neurotype or neuro-identity, but for employees with ADHD, the workplace can pose additional challenges. Individuals may require additional support, such as reasonable adjustments, to remove any barriers or challenges which may cause them to be disadvantaged in the workplace.

Impact of ADHD on work

Neuro-inclusion is making its way on to many organisations’ equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) radar, but there’s still some way to go to ensure all workplace cultures are psychologically safe for neurodistinct employees. Without the right support in place, experiences for employees with ADHD at work can be debilitating.

A study by Fuermaier et al., (2021) explored the nature of work-related challenges in adults with ADHD. Their study identified several challenges at work, both for individuals with an ADHD diagnosis and those who experienced ADHD characteristics.

The results showed that individuals with an ADHD diagnosis experienced challenges with functioning at work; 55 percent found it challenging to complete work efficiently, and 69 percent identified issues with working to their full potential.

In a community subgroup, 37 to 53 percent of people with ADHD traits also experienced a larger proportion of challenges.

Therefore, both an ADHD diagnosis and experiencing ADHD characteristics, even without a diagnosis, can mean employees face significant barriers at work.

ADHD workplace challenges

At work, employees with ADHD may find it challenging to:

  • Complete work on time or to deadlines
  • Manage stress, meaning they are at an increased risk of burnout
  • Spot errors in their work
  • Maintain focus on a task or during conversations or meetings
  • Follow instructions or directions
  • Wait their turn to speak
  • Remember tasks, appointments or meetings
  • Ignore noise and movement distractions
  • Stay focused leading to procrastination

Reports suggest that people with ADHD are 60 percent more likely to lose their job, or three times more likely to quit impulsively (Attention Deficit Disorder Association, 2023). A recent survey of neurodistinct workers by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) found that more than two thirds wouldn’t disclose their diagnosis to their employer.

This highlights the need for organisations to foster an open, honest and inclusive workplace culture. Organisations must proactively do more to create an environment where employees feel comfortable disclosing neuro-differences and exploring further support.

ADHD workplace adjustments

ADHD can meet the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010, regardless of whether employees consider themselves disabled or not. That means employers have a legal responsibility to protect both current and prospective employees with ADHD from victimisation, discrimination and harassment. Employers also have a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for ADHD in the workplace.

But ADHD workplace accommodations are not just a legal responsibility, they’re a moral one, too. Providing the right support means that employees of all neurotypes can thrive and perform at their very best.

What are ADHD workplace accommodations?

Workplace accommodations, also referred to as reasonable adjustments or workplace adjustments, are changes or adaptations employers can make to reduce or remove a disadvantage at work associated with someone’s disability, in this case ADHD.

Supporting ADHD in the workplace is important for several reasons. Even small adjustments can make a big difference and enable ADHD employees to reach their full potential.

People with ADHD also cite a lack of support as a reason for leaving their jobs and around 24 percent of people on stress-related long-term sick leave displayed ADHD traits (ADDA, 2023; Ontiveros et al., 2023).

So, implementing workplace adjustments for ADHD employees, means organisations are less likely to lose talented individuals, and can put support in place to mitigate their challenges.

Examples of accommodations for ADHD in the workplace

Below we’ll look at three of our top ADHD workplace adjustments, that you can either implement to help yourself or an ADHD employee.

We have taken these examples from our collection of Personalised Workplace Adjustments. These are strategies and accommodations we provide on our platform for managers and employees based on neuro-difference disclosure, cognitive profile and job role. They are carefully curated to enable everyone to conduct their tasks without neuro-identity, cognitive differences or job-related barriers.

Reduce noise distractions

For some employees with ADHD, noise can be particularly distracting, contributing to a loss of focus.

Noise distractions can be reduced at work by providing:

  • Noise cancelling headphones, earplugs or ear defenders
  • A distraction free workspace or designated quiet zone
  • Dedicated focus time

For some people, absolute silence can be just as distracting and so they may benefit from coloured noise, such as white (background sounds produced by devices such as fans, heating systems, refrigerators or computers) and pink (nature sounds, like rainfall) (CHADD, 2020).

Break tasks down into manageable chunks

Having lots of tasks going on all at once or being presented with a large project can be overwhelming for people with ADHD who may be susceptible to task overload. This can impact productivity and wellbeing.

To combat this, breaking tasks down into easy, manageable chunks that can be completed one by one, can manage cognitive load and reduce the likelihood of being overwhelmed.

Encourage Pomodoro working

The Pomodoro (or tomato) technique is a popular time management tool that encourages you to alternate short periods of focused attention, called ‘Pomodoro’s’ that usually last 25 minutes, with frequent short breaks to help maintain focus, typically 5 to 10 minutes. After the fourth Pomodoro, you should take a longer break for 20 to 30 minutes.

For employees with ADHD, the Pomodoro technique should be encouraged for small tasks where hyperfocus isn’t required. However, for larger tasks or projects that may require a person with ADHD to hyperfocus, then the Pomodoro technique may be counterproductive.

When it comes to applying reasonable adjustments for ADHD, they should form collaborative discussions between the employee and their manager. There should not be a blanket approach to providing support because everyone’s experiences can differ, even if they have the same diagnosis.

If you’re looking for innovative ideas for supporting neurodistinct employees in your organisation, you can find lots of great ideas in our ‘27 workplace adjustments to support neurodiversity’ handbook .

ADHD and working from home

The adjustments mentioned in this article are relevant whether the person with ADHD works on-site or from home. There are a number of benefits to working from home for ADHD employees, including:

  • More control over potentially distracting environmental stimuli
  • Less need to travel at busy times
  • Easier to incorporate exercise or mindfulness into daily routine

But there are some additional considerations worth mentioning for home workers with ADHD:

  • While the workplace – whether it’s an office or other on-site location – is usually considered more distracting for ADHD employees, some may work more productively with people around them.
  • Home working has its own distractions; ADHD employees may find it harder to ignore the beep of the washing machine, or to refocus after a parcel has been delivered, for example.
  • It can be easier to forget to take breaks when working at home, particularly if you are the only person in the house.
  • Regular working hours can slip more easily, leading to working overtime and potential burn out.

Tips for home working with ADHD:

  • Ask a friend or colleague if they can be your ‘accountability buddy’, so you can keep each other motivated to complete tasks and remind each other to take regular breaks.
  • Set aside allocated break times to do things like hanging up the laundry or tidying your bedroom – these often take more time than we anticipate and can interfere with our schedule.
  • If you share the household with other people during the work day, let them know if you have designated ‘do not disturb’ times or even hang a sign on your door when it’s focus time.

Benefits of ADHD in the workplace

Workplace adjustments are a crucial support tool for many of us who experience neuro-differences like ADHD. But they aren’t the only way to support ourselves or receive support at work.

Recognising the unique strengths of diverse thinkers is an important way to navigate ADHD-related challenges in the workplace. And many traits associated with ADHD translate into real competitive advantages. For example:

  1. Creative and big picture thinking
  2. Openness to change and risk-taking
  3. Optimism and determination
  4. Empathy
  5. Hyperfocus

But how to use these strengths to your advantage at work?

  1. If you’re a creative, big picture thinker, you might be able to tackle abstract problems and come up with novel ideas without getting bogged down in the finer details. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain and do things a little differently.
  2. If you thrive on or are comfortable with change, or you’re willing to take some risks, you might possess strong entrepreneurial skills. You may have tried your best to moderate the more impulsive part of yourself, but it can be harnessed to help you to drive team innovation, through openness to explore new ideas.
  3. If you’re often positive and optimistic, you might be the sort of colleague who can motivate, unite or lead a team. If you notice your colleagues feeling unmotivated or in need of a boost, consider putting yourself forward for project leader roles. Just keep your own wellbeing in mind. Sometimes being the group motivator can take a personal toll, so be aware of what stress and burnout can look like for you.
  4. If you find that you’re highly responsive to emotion, you may also be altruistic – a quality that can make you a highly empathetic colleague and even leader (Teschke, 2010). So, remember it’s okay to express your emotions and use them to relate to your colleagues and be passionate about your work.
  5. Be sure to let your colleagues and manager know about the topics that interest you the most, as you’re more likely to be able to hyperfocus on tasks that involve your interests, boosting your productivity.

By leaning into these traits and advantages, ADHD thinking can become beneficial for individuals and the organisation as a whole.

This is especially true when employees of all neurotypes and neuro-identities collaborate and share their strengths. Top tip for ADHD skill sharing:

  • Talk about your cognition – the Cognassist cognitive assessment highlights strength and development areas, which can help you identify skill sharing opportunities.


Supporting colleagues with ADHD at work

As a colleague or a manager working with someone who experiences ADHD, you have a vital role to play in helping to build a neuro-inclusive environment at work. You can help your colleagues feel safe to be their true selves. Together we can break down the barriers so that we can all confidently embrace our cognitive differences.

You can help create a supportive work environment for ADHD by:

Respecting ‘Do not disturb’ signs

Bouncing back from distractions can be particularly challenging for people with ADHD, so where possible, try to limit interruptions to their workflow. You can do this by limiting the number of instant messages or emails you send, and being respectful of headphone use, which is often a sign of focused work time.

Scheduling meetings or calls

Some people will find it challenging to restart work after an unplanned interruption, so scheduling meetings will enable them to plan their time. Others will benefit from taking regular, short breaks away from their desk, and unscheduled calls could delay or prevent these breaks. Be mindful that unscheduled calls can also cause anxiety in some colleagues.

Resist drawing attention to fidget devices

Restlessness and fidgeting are characteristics of ADHD, and some employees may use silent fidget toys. Try not to draw attention to the use of these as they can help some individuals maintain their concentration. If you notice a colleague is displaying fidget-type behaviours like tapping the table with their fingers, leg bouncing or constantly moving around, you might suggest they try using a fidget device to help focus their attention.

Supporting time management of tasks

Colleagues with ADHD may find planning and organisation challenging because of differences in Executive Function. For this reason, your colleague may not always complete tasks on time or reach deadlines. To support their time management, you could confirm tasks and timescales by email, or use bullet points to highlight the tasks you are each working on.

Keep communication concise

When collaborating with colleagues with ADHD, try to keep your communication concise. If you are verbally communicating, make sure you articulate the tasks you are each working on, the next steps and the deadline. Always follow up on any actions in writing.

Support your colleagues to take breaks

Adults with ADHD are more likely to experience burnout than those who do not have ADHD. Workplaces can become overwhelming for everyone at times, so it is important to take regular short breaks, when possible, to help refocus. Short breaks can help with restlessness and hyperfocus, both of which are common ADHD characteristics, and can result in fatigue or stress. So, breaks are a good way to take a step back, get some fresh air and refocus.

Be aware of sensory stimuli

A common characteristic of ADHD is hypersensitivity, particularly towards sensory stimuli such as light, smell or touch. Some people with ADHD can find strong odours very distracting, so you could avoid eating strong smelling foods near them.

People with ADHD may react differently to touch; some are comfortable with it, while others may find it awkward or even painful (Piccardi et al, 2021). Ask people’s preferences for greetings, whether they prefer a handshake, hug or a wave. Or you could suggest implementing a badge system so people’s preferences are clear.

For some further guidance on supporting neuro-differences like ADHD in the workplace, take a look at our article and handbook.

Disclosing ADHD at work

If you haven’t told anyone in your organisation about your ADHD, that’s okay. It’s a very personal choice; some people are vocal about their diagnosis and others view it as private information.

Unfortunately, some outdated stereotypes still exist and you might be worried that telling people about your ADHD might make you colleagues or employer think differently of you. For example, some people still think that:

  • ADHD is simply a mental health condition
  • People with ADHD are unmotivated or lazy
  • Everyone is ‘a bit ADHD’

These myths can be harmful and it’s understandable if you’re apprehensive about disclosing ADHD at work. But without people being open about their experiences with ADHD, it’s harder to break down the stigma and misconceptions.

Consider the following when deciding whether to share your neuro-differences:

  • Talking about our neuro-differences, including any specific neurotypes like ADHD, helps contribute to an open and inclusive workplace culture. You never know, in talking about your ADHD experiences, you may empower others to share theirs.
  • Letting your manager know about your ADHD means they can provide the right support for you. Without disclosure, your manager may be limited in the type of adjustments they can provide , and your colleagues may not be aware of how you work best, so can’t give as much support as they might like to.
  • You don’t need a formal ADHD diagnosis to receive support at work. To aid conversations with your manager, have a think about any aspects of your role or the workplace that you find challenging, and together you can work out which, if any, reasonable adjustments you can try. You could ask yourself questions like, “What does a good/bad day look like for me?” to help figure out support strategies.
  • Does your organisation have a culture of openness and understanding? Does it have mental health support networks or mentorship schemes? These could be indicators of whether you’re likely to get the response you’re looking for when disclosing.
  • Do you know of any colleagues who talk openly about ADHD? You could talk to them about their disclosure experience at your organisation.

ADHD awareness and manager training

Supporting ADHD and gaining support from others at work relies on a culture of neuro-inclusion. This involves a company-wide awareness of neurodiversity and diverse thinking. But how can this be achieved when everyone’s knowledge and background is incredibly varied?

Neuro-inclusion training brings everyone in an organisation up to speed with the same level of understanding of neuro-differences and what it means to be an inclusive colleague.

Dedicated manager training is vital, so that employees with ADHD feel as though they can work with their manager to ensure their requirements are met. ADHD-aware managers understand both the challenges and the benefits of ADHD in the workplace, creating a psychologically safe space for employees to explore how to work with their unique cognition, not against it.

We’ve developed a free training course for managers looking to adapt their management approach towards supporting employees with ADHD. Not only this, but the Cognassist Neuro-inclusion Awareness training, accredited by City & Guilds and ILM, provides in-depth courses for the whole organisation, from employee and manager awareness, through to Neuro-inclusion Champion training.

The courses provide:

  • Up-to-date knowledge on reasonable adjustments and legal compliance
  • Best practice and tips for embedding neuro-inclusion
  • Personal strategies for professional development

Free Preview Course – Manager responsibilities for reasonable adjustments: ADHD

  • What are reasonable adjustments?
  • Legal responsibilities as a manager
  • Reasonable adjustments for ADHD
  • Using ADHD strengths as strategies